Battle of Mayoral Polls: Who Can We Trust?

If your allegiance is to Mike McGinn, you have to be head over heels this morning after learning that a new KIRO-TV poll shows the mayor trailing Ed Murray by a scant 4 percentage points – 33 to 29 percent, with a remarkable 38 percent still undecided.

This is welcome news indeed for the mayor, who, according to three other voter surveys taken over the past two weeks, have showed him badly lagging behind the challenger, in the hole by double-digit margins to the 18-year state lawmaker.

A KING5 SurveyUSA poll administered after the first televised mayoral debate, October 9, showed McGinn leading by 20 points, 52 to 32 percent. Shortly afterward, a Public Policy Polling survey had Murray up by 22 points.

This morning, Strategies 360, a Seattle-based public affairs firm, released its own poll, a live telephone survey of 400 likely voters conducted Oct. 14-16. It found Murray ahead of McGinn by 17 points, 51 to 34 percent, with 15 undecided. Interestingly, the poll also revealed that voters are almost equally divided by the question of whether the city is moving in the right or wrong direction – 48 to 46 percent, respectively.

The starkest difference between the two candidates was in their favorability ratings. Just 12 percent of respondents view Murray unfavorably, according to the Strategies 360 poll, while McGinn was viewed unfavorably by 42 percent. By contrast, 60 percent had a favorable impression of Murray, compared with 47 percent for McGinn.

All of the polls released to date have a margin of error between 4 and 5 percent.

Unsurprisingly, the McGinn and Murray campaigns have their own take on the validity of the polling data.

The the ink was barely dry on the KIRO poll, when Murray consultant Sandeep Kaushik pounced, saying that the poll’s methodology was flawed. Not only it is dated – conducted in early October – but the survey, he said, is based on registered, as opposed to likely, voters, considered a more reliable barometer. The KING5 poll, noted Kaushik, was of likely voters.

Finally, the Kaushik added, the KIRO poll “slightly oversamples” cell phone only voters – “but more importantly, nearly 40 percent of this sample was derived from ‘online’ polling. That likely is having a major skewing effect as well towards McGinn and towards undecided.” Online polling is conduced by email, using addresses voters provide when they register.

Kaushik continues in an e-mail, “Remove the respondents unlikely to vote and the questionable online sample from the universe and the numbers will change dramatically (bringing it more inline with King 5). In short, we have very good reason to believe this poll is an outlier and that currently Murray continues to maintain a double-digit lead over the incumbent mayor.”

McGinn’s campaign manger John Wyble , when reached this morning for his response to the KIRO poll, joked, “I am not happy. There goes our miraculous 22-point comeback.”

Wyble believes the KIRO sampling is a much clearer indication of where the race stands with 15 days to go. In fact, based on live voters queried during the campaign’s phone back operation, he believes McGinn is down by just 2 points.

“We feel like it’s very competitive now. The debates had a real (favorable) effect for us and we think the domestic violence ad is backfiring,” Wyble said.

Wyble is referring a 30-second TV ad, paid for by a political action committee supporting Murray that has Terri Kimball, the former director of the city’s Office of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention, criticizing McGinn’s 2011 decision to eliminate that office and fold it into a larger human-services division. In the ad, the narrator intones, “Now, domestic violence aggravated assaults are up 60 percent.”

In a “Truth Needle” story on Saturday, The Seattle Times’ Jim Brunner wrote that the ad is “mostly false,” and “omits relevant facts and goes too far by implying the move led to a spike in serious domestic violence.”

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